Maple Leafs Will Need Years to Recover From 2021 Trade Deadline

We now continue with our series involving the Columbus Blue Jackets and the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. In case you missed part one, we talked about the Edmonton Oilers and how they could be a match with the Blue Jackets.

Related: Blue Jackets Could Meet Oilers Deadline Needs

This week we turn our attention to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was just about a year ago that the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets made one of the bigger trades leading up to the 2021 Trade Deadline. The after effects of this trade will be felt by both teams for different reasons for many years to come.

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Recapping the Trade

The Maple Leafs seemed like they were in a good place. It wasn’t a matter of wondering if they’d make the playoffs. It was a matter of where they’d ultimately position themselves and who their first-round opponent would be. In the Scotia Bank North Division, the Maple Leafs were comfortably in front and heavily favored to come out of Canada to make the Final Four.

With that in mind, the Maple Leafs wanted to bring in a leader and someone who had previous playoff experience. Enter Nick Foligno. The Blue Jackets fell off sharply and a changing of the guard was in order. Therefore they traded Foligno to the Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2021 first-round pick and a 2022 fourth-round pick.

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Foligno was the captain of the Blue Jackets under coach John Tortorella. The Maple Leafs got a first-hand look at Foligno from the season before when the Blue Jackets knocked out the Maple Leafs from the Toronto bubble in five games.

In Foligno, the Maple Leafs were getting a responsible two-way player who was more known for being good defensively. Considering the high-end skill the Maple Leafs were boasting, adding someone like Foligno who could play key minutes and important situations such as the penalty kill seemed like a good fit.

At first, things were looking promising for Foligno and the Maple Leafs.

Nick Foligno Morgan Rielly Mitchell Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
The Nick Foligno era in Toronto started good but quickly faded to black. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Foligno recorded a point in four straight games (all assists) to start his Maple Leafs tenure. The initial excitement of having him on the team was easy to see. There was energy. It allowed the Maple Leafs to adjust their lines. This had all the makings of a good trade.

But then, everything came crashing down on the Maple Leafs in the worst possible way.

A Brutal Ending

After those first four games, Foligno would go on to score just one more point in a Maple Leafs’ sweater. That was an assist in Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens. He suffered an injury but was able to return in the series. However he never recorded a goal and the Maple Leafs were ousted by the Canadiens in seven games to end their postseason much sooner than they wanted.

To make matters worse, although Foligno was interested in re-signing with the Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins came swooping in and convinced him to sign with them. With that came the end of the Foligno era in Toronto.

In total, Foligno recorded five assists in 11 games with the Maple Leafs. Although the premise behind making the trade made sense, it ultimately fell flat. The Maple Leafs gave up a first-round pick to the Blue Jackets in this trade. It eventually became the 25th overall pick.

The fact that the Maple Leafs got just 11 games and zero goals with their 2021 first rounder will haunt them for years to come. That’s it. That’s the end of their part of this trade. Meanwhile the Blue Jackets side of the trade is only getting started.

With the 25th pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Blue Jackets selected defenseman Corson Ceulemans. As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Ceulemans leads the Badgers in goals, assists and points with 7-13-20. He is expected to be a big part of the Blue Jackets’ plans on the blue line.

Corson Ceulemans, Brooks Bandits
Corson Ceulemans’ career will forever be tied to the Maple Leafs/Blue Jackets trade in 2021. (Photo Credit: Brooks Bandits/Bryan Wilson)

From a Maple Leafs’ perspective, this is the worst possible outcome. Things like this will take years to recover from. As long as Ceulemans plays well moving forward, it will only make the trade look worse and worse. This could eventually go down as one of the most lopsided trades in recent NHL history by the time it’s all said and done. To get that kind of a return on a first-round pick is hard to stomach.

Lessons Learned

If there is a silver lining in this situation, it’s that Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs can learn a valuable lesson from the experience. That painful experience can help them make smarter and more creative moves at this deadline. They can ill-afford to go down the path of a first rounder for a pure rental. Therefore they will need to handle things in a different way.

But what will they do? Given that they have just three picks in the 2022 draft (first, second and seventh), it wouldn’t be wise to part with those after what happened with Foligno in 2021. But then consider that the Maple Leafs are using LTIR and you have a situation where they must be creative in their dealings as the cap is a major issue.

Could Blue Jackets Be a Match Again?

There certainly is familiarity between Dubas and Jarmo Kekalainen. Although the Blue Jackets are in a different situation than they were last season in terms of the kinds of players they were moving, they do have one thing that could help the Maple Leafs immensely. That is cap space.

This is where creativity could come into play. The Blue Jackets are in a position to act as a third-party broker should the opportunity arise. Kekalainen recently joined our podcast Union Junction and said that they are open to utilizing the salary cap if the right deal presents itself. If the Maple Leafs have someone in mind but need cap room, they may try to get the Blue Jackets involved to help facilitate the deal.

If the Maple Leafs have areas of need, it’s depth defensemen and possibly a depth forward. Justin Holl and Travis Dermott have long been speculated to be in trade rumors. With that in mind, the bottom pairings are in question. Then up front, Nick Ritchie is in the minors and could be heading for a trade soon.

The Blue Jackets are likely parting with most of their pending UFAs in Joonas Korpisalo, Max Domi and Dean Kukan. The Leafs are set in goal. They don’t have the cap room for Domi. Perhaps they look at Kukan for depth but without much in the way of draft capital, it seems there isn’t much of a match personnel wise.

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The thing to focus on here is the cap space situation. The Maple Leafs need a top-four defenseman preferably on the right side but likely need to find cap space in order to pull it off. If not the Blue Jackets, there are other teams who can provide cap space for the Maple Leafs to pull off a move.

This trade deadline is huge for the Maple Leafs. Another failed playoff could lead to some big changes with the core. But with less draft capital available and being up against the cap, they will have to find a creative solution to improve this roster. They cannot have a repeat performance of 2021 under any circumstances. It’s already set them back years as a result.